Most employers and human resources professionals understand that they have to comply with federal and state family and medical leave laws. Understanding the obligation does not necessarily mean understanding how to comply, though. Where state labor laws do not mirror federal laws, compliance can be tricky.
Take, for example, the New Jersey Family Leave Act and its interaction with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period under certain circumstances.
The New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) looks a lot like the FMLA. It entitles the eligible employees of covered employers to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 24-month period under some of the same circumstances. Notably, though, the serious health condition of the employee, which is covered by the FMLA, is not covered by the NJFLA (it is not a “medical” leave act, after all). Well, what does that mean for how we calculate leave?
Suppose a female employee who is eligible for leave under both the FMLA and NJFLA becomes pregnant. She has a normal pregnancy and has not used any leave at all in the past twenty-four months so, when she delivers her child, she is entitled to 12 weeks of leave, all of which count against her entitlements under both the FMLA and the NJFLA.
Imagine now that the same female employee experiences complications due to her pregnancy which qualify as a serious health condition. Her doctor says she will be disabled for 8 weeks until she gives birth. Because the leave is due to her serious health condition, she is entitled to 8 weeks of FMLA leave, but not NJFLA. After eight weeks, the employee delivers the baby but has further complications and the doctor extends her disability for another 4 weeks.
The employee has now been out on leave for 12 weeks, all of which are covered by the FMLA, but none of which are covered by the NJFLA. After the twelfth week, the doctor finally clears her to return to work. So she has to come back, right? No. Under the NJFLA, she’s still entitled to 12 weeks of leave to care for her newborn child. In this particular employee’s case, she would get a total of 24 weeks of leave in one year – not 12.
Of course, this is just one example for which there are many potential variations. So, if you are analyzing leave requests, make sure you understand exactly which laws apply and how the employee satisfies their requirements. And if you’re not sure, contact your employment counsel.